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In Northwest, NDP Candidates Struggle to Make Support for LNG Clear

Party aims to convince voters it backs industry — with conditions.

By Andrew MacLeod 1 May 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative bureau chief in Victoria and the author of A Better Place on Earth: The Search for Fairness in Super Unequal British Columbia (Harbour Publishing, 2015). Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

This report is part of The Tyee’s reader-funded B.C. 2017 election coverage. To learn more about becoming a Tyee Builder, go here.

TERRACE — Skeena NDP candidate Bruce Bidgood is clearly frustrated that his party’s support for local LNG continues to be questioned.

“John Horgan and the NDP support LNG development in the northwest,” Bidgood said in an interview in his campaign office. “I’ve gone out publicly and said over and over again, I support LNG Canada and Kitimat LNG.”

But Bidgood, a social work professor and former Terrace city councillor, acknowledges that people still think the NDP is dead set against the liquefied natural gas industry. “It amazes me the degree to which it persists,” he said. “What more do you want me to do?”

New Democrat MLAs have represented Skeena since 1991, with the exception of the four years following the party’s collapse in 2001. But incumbent MLA Robin Austin is retiring, and the BC Liberals handpicked Ellis Ross, a former chief councillor of the Haisla First Nation, as the party’s candidate. Austin only won by 522 votes in 2013.

The Liberals’ Ross is working hard to cast doubt on the NDP’s support for the industry.

“I don’t know where the NDP stand on LNG,” he told The Tyee during an interview at a busy trade fair in the Terrace Sportsplex.

BC Liberal leader Christy Clark has also been relentless in branding the NDP as against development and jobs. On a recent visit to the region, Clark said the NDP oppose LNG and the resource sector in general.

Ross has been a long-time advocate for the LNG industry — 12 years by his count — and the Haisla have signed on as partners with various projects, including the large Shell-led LNG Canada proposal.

“We worked on it for years before anyone even thought about it,” he said, pointing out that Clark jumped in as a booster just in the last five years. “I credit her for getting the profile higher.”

582px version of Shell-led Kitimat LNG project
Sign is up at site of Shell-led Kitimat LNG project, but terminal is stalled. Photo by Andrew MacLeod.

Low global natural gas prices have meant none of the LNG projects proposed for the northwest have gone ahead, but the companies remain a presence. Both LNG Canada and Kitimat LNG have signs up at their industrial sites and storefront offices in Kitimat or Terrace.

The April 21 headline on the front page of the Northern Connector community newspaper was “Skeena candidates tackle LNG issue.” On the back page was an advertisement from LNG Canada promoting eight company-sponsored $2,500 scholarships for local students interested in learning a trade.

It’s clear many people in Kitimat and Terrace believe the industry will take off eventually.

Others don’t. Merv Ritchie, the third candidate in Skeena, running as a Land Air Water Party candidate said, “Ellis keeps talking about LNG, but it’s done.”

There was an LNG boom — which also brought an increase in housing prices — as companies did some site preparation. But it’s over now. Many of the workers have left and the machinery has pulled out, Ritchie said.

In Prince Rupert, opposition to Pacific NorthWest LNG

While Bidgood is unequivocal in his support for the Kitimat projects, in the neighbouring North Coast riding NDP incumbent Jennifer Rice is critical of another LNG proposal.

Pacific NorthWest LNG, headed by the Malaysian government-owned Petronas, wants to build a liquefaction and export facility on Lelu Island at the mouth of the Skeena River, where opponents say it will damage critical fish habitat.

“The BC NDP supports LNG if it’s done right,” Rice said during an all candidates meeting in Prince Rupert. “We believe development needs to guarantee jobs and training for local people. In the Pacific Northwest PDA, project development agreement, Christy Clark did not negotiate that. She left it to the corporation to say, ‘Trust us, we’ll give you these jobs.’”

“We believe we need to respect First Nations and treat them as true partners, not check box consultations, and we need to protect our land, air and water, and that’s our position on LNG,” she said.

The NDP has set out conditions for LNG project approval, which Rice says are similar to Clark’s approach to pipeline projects. They include First Nations consultation, local benefits and environmental protection. The huge riding includes Haidi Gwaii and many coastal First Nations communities.

Later, in an interview, Rice said the Pacific NorthWest LNG proposal “absolutely does not meet the conditions.”

There’s no guarantee of local benefits, she said. “The Pacific Northwest PDA, project development agreement, did not explicitly commit to local jobs, local hires, local procurement. It did not include apprenticeship numbers.”

The agreement allows the company to defer royalty payments to the government and allows it to sue if any new environmental legislation affects the project, she said.

“In my mind, irrespective of the environmental impacts, irrespective of the fact that the location is hugely controversial and hugely upsetting to coastal First Nations communities who depend on salmon resources, we’re not getting a good deal out of it,” she said.

“It’s basically how this party does business,” she said. “It’s not about value added. It’s not about getting the best bang for the buck or creating good jobs for local people or British Columbians. It’s about ripping and shipping and pandering to big corporations. I’m running for the BC NDP because I care about regular people.”

Rice is running against Liberal candidate Herb Pond, a former Prince Rupert mayor, and the Greens’ Hondo Arendt, who took 10 per cent of the vote in 2013.

Back in Skeena, Bidgood said that clearly not every proposal is created equal. Projects can be proposed for the wrong location or without offering a fair return to local workers or the public, he said.

The two Kitimat projects have environmental permits, broad community support and the approval of local First Nations, so they would meet the NDP’s conditions and he supports them, he said.

851px version of Liberal candidate Ellis Ross
Liberal candidate Ellis Ross, in yellow, making support for LNG key Skeena issue. Photo by Andrew MacLeod.

“The fact of the matter is, no matter what you do there seems to be some new spin that suggests the NDP doesn’t want development,” he said. “How about if we change our name to the New Development Party? Because that’s what we want, new development, so stop pretending like we don’t.”

The NDP is for development projects that are done right, he said. “No government wants to govern, as Ellis so eloquently says, for poverty. We all want to govern for prosperity.”

At the same time, governments have a role in regulating and monitoring industrial projects, Bidgood said.

“People here get it,” he said. “You can want a good job and still stand next to me in the river fishing in a beautiful environment. It is possible to do that.”  [Tyee]

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